’ love for photography started in New York in 1979. He was three years into his career as the guitarist for The Police, the British trio that quickly became a sensation with its 1978 debut album, Outlandos d’Amour (“Roxanne,” “Can’t Stand Losing You”) and 1979’s Regatta de Blanc (“Message in a Bottle,” “Walking on the Moon”). The band was constantly surrounded by photographers, and Summers began to get interested in their equipment.
“Suddenly it occurred to me: I should get a really good camera,” he tells Billboard’s Behind the Setlist podcast. “I’m on the road. I’ve got all this time. I mean, the only real commitment I have is getting to the gig and playing a couple of hours however many nights a week. Then there’s all this downtime, particularly in the U.S.” Summers bought a Nikon camera at a B&H Photo Video store in New York City and quickly began studying photography books and talking to people about the craft. “Immediately it became a complete obsession,” he says.
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It turned out that playing the guitar wasn’t the only thing Summers was good at. “I seemed to have a natural aptitude [for photography],” he says, ”a knack for it.” Summers released his first book of photography, Throb, in 1983 and documented his time in The Police with 2007’s I’ll Be Watching You: Inside the Police. 1980-83. His latest book of photography, A Series of Glances, was released in May by German publisher teNeues Verlag.
Now Summers is combining his two passions on his North American tour, A Cracked Lens + A Missing String, that runs through the East Coast, West Coast and Canada before culminating in four dates in Florida in December. The show — Summers performing solo while his photography is displayed behind him — spans The Police (“Roxanne,” “Tea in the Sahara” and “Spirits in the Material World” are regularly played), original solo works (such as “Triboluminescence” and “The Bones of Twang Zu”), covers of Brazilian influences (“A Felicidade” by Antônio Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes, and “Manhã de carnaval” by Luis Bonfá) and a jazz classic (Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight”).
The mixed-media shows are an outgrowth of his photography exhibitions and performances at museums. “I think we’ve actually developed it into quite a sophisticated place from that early start,” says Summers. “And the way you learn you, the way you do it is by actually doing it in front of an audience. Of course, I practice in my studio, and we project onto a big white wall and I play and then you know, so that’s your normal practice — sequencing playing, getting used to it — then you do it once in front of your audience and realize you’ve got everything wrong. And so you revise it. It’s always a work in progress.”
Listen to the entire interview with Andy Summers at Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeart, Amazon Music or Audible.
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